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Blackwater Ammunition Enters the Fray

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“We’re here to give an extra five hundred meters back to the good guys.”

In RECOIL Issue 40 we published an advertisement which caused the mainstream media to lose their collective shit.

The ad in question featured a black field with a bear paw logo and the words ‘We are coming,’ which evidently was enough to convince the likes of CBS,, and Pravda – sorry, RT, I always get those two confused – that Blackwater was taking over the US campaigns in Syria and Afghanistan. Was there the slightest bit of evidence for this? No, but why let the truth stand in the way of a clickbait headline.

At SHOT Show last month, we sat down with Blackwater founder Erik Prince and his business partner Nicola Bandini to find out why he was venturing into small arms ammo and do some, you know, journalism. It turns out, they’re not just launching a new ammo company based in Europe, but in doing so are bringing some much-needed innovation to a market sector that for decades has been doing the same old, same old.


One area in particular which was identified for a revamp is the 50 cal market, which has faced significant problems of inertia when it comes to product improvement. According to Chris Barrett, who should know a thing or two when it comes to 50 cal rifles, “The M107 has always been hampered due to ammunition. Everything is geared to towards the M2.”

RECOIL: What’s the motivation behind Blackwater’s venture into the ammunition business?

Erik Prince: If you look at the Henry rifle, that was a brass cartridge, centerfire round. We’re still doing that today and there’s been very little evolution in what an infantryman carries into battle, in terms of the ammunition that he carries. We fully intend to revolutionize firearms.


RECOIL: As John Wayne would say, that’s bold talk for a one-eyed fat man.

EP: I really didn’t set out to be revolutionary with whatever I did with Blackwater, and he [Bandini] didn’t set out to be revolutionary with his handgun designs, but one thing leads to another.

Nicola Bandini: The fifty cal we’re doing is a perfect example of this. The fifty was shown in July 1918 – one hundred years last July. It’s taken one hundred years to modify something that was originally designed to be an anti-tank round, or to spray the battlefield with a thousand rounds and hit with ten, but it’s now supposed to be the standard for a sniper to hit with at two miles. It simply can’t happen – it’s like expecting a Ford Model T to drive from New York to Los Angeles in one day. The fifty can be a two-mile cartridge, but the way we cook it, not the way it’s currently done …Our case [neck] is one-hundredth of a millimeter off-center because it’s turned on a lathe.

EP: We’re using a monolithic bullet, turned on a lathe, pushed inside a lathe-turned casing. I don’t think it’s possible to make a more precision device.


RECOIL: What’s the cost implications of manufacturing that way?

EP: Not bad, once you get to industrial scale production levels. We’re using a two-piece case consisting of a short length of tube for the front section, threaded to a small piece of round stock for the case head, which requires less chips.

RECOIL: What about the rest of the product line?

EP: The usual. 9MM, 45, 12 gauge – we actually have a proper Dragunov offering, a 12.7×108 Dushka round. Nobody’s working on making a DShK round more accurate and everyone in the ammunition world knows how hard it is to get either 50 cal ball or DShK ammo because of the amount of small wars being fought in various places.

We’re also working on a 10×100 round, which gives 25% more capacity for powder in the case than a 50 cal, shooting a 400 grain bullet and will work in a 50 class magazine and action.

NB: This is a revolutionary concept. Think P.O. Ackley improved, larger capacity, neck is 35 [degrees].


RECOIL: Where are you manufacturing?

EP: The plant is in Italy, loading for the fifties, and the main loading plant is in Malta.

RECOIL: What advantages does it give you, loading in Malta?

EP: Pro-business, tax efficient, export-efficient, and still in the EU. The [fifty cal] plant is between Sienna and Florence and one of the things I’ve learned from my business experience – when I got out of the teams I took over my dad’s business which made die-cast machines. We had a German competitor, a Swiss competitor, and two Italian competitors, and the Italians were always low-cost, fast to market and very innovative. They had just an assembly plant and their entire industrial base was all mom and pop machining and fabricating shops. An incredibly diverse and resilient supply base and we tap into that entire genome doing this.

RECOIL: Where do you see your primary markets being?

EP: The more standard the firearms and ammunition, the more commoditized it is. I think the 50 cal market is where we’ll make the most significant penetration, because of our weight savings and accuracy. Look, the USMC is spending serious money to take two pounds out of a ring mount on a humvee. We’re going to take seven pounds out of every one hundred rounds of 50 cal ammo – put a thousand rounds of ammo in a humvee and that’s a seventy-pound savings on a consumable basis.

For the past seventeen years, there haven’t been any massive conventional wars, with the exception of 2003, but counterinsurgency, special operations and the role of the sniper have become more and more essential. When we hear from special operations unit customers and they complain that we’re out-ranged and that the enemy has gotten much better and more capable, we’re here to give an extra five hundred or a thousand meters back to the good guys. We’ll push the limits on those existing calibers, and with the 10×100 we’ll look to set a new standard.

RECOIL: Given that technology in the firearms industry is so mature, do you think you’ll be facing an uphill battle?

EP: Necessity is the mother of invention. Despite all the weight saving and carbon fiber this and composite that, bureaucrats still find more ways to load up stuff onto soldiers. If we can make your ammunition weigh a third less and we can extend his effective range by up to 30 percent, there’ll always be a demand for that.

When William Gatling developed the Gatling gun he developed it right before the Civil War and took it to the chief of US army ordnance and in true bureaucratic fashion, the chief of army ordnance said, ‘Why would I want a gun that uses so much ammunition?’ Like any good entrepreneur, Gatling persisted and he eventually did a live fire demo for Abraham Lincoln on the National Mall in front of the White House. It was Lincoln who pushed it over and said, ‘You will buy those.’

I remember when Trijicon scopes came out, I was a young SEAL and the first person on my team to buy it. I eventually had it long enough that the supply officer noticed. Excellence will win out. Whether you have to go in through the front door, the back door or in through the basement, there’s a way into the organization.


RECOIL: How do you plan on distributing product to the US civilian market?

EP: Once the ammunition is made in Malta and Italy, it’s shipped to our distributor in Charlotte, North Carolina, and customers can either order from the website, or there’s a number of dealers who stock the product.

RECOIL: It’s not like you don’t have a certain amount of brand awareness.

EP: Exactly.


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